Getting a clear picture of our early evolutionary ancestors is challenging, in part because one of the biggest tools in reconstructing the past is fossil evidence. Fossils are very telling when it comes to bones, but soft tissues, such as skin, lungs, and other organs, are not usually well-preserved in the fossil record. This week, scientists from the United Kingdom and Canada published a paper in Nature detailing a trove of fossil treasures from the Canadian Rockies, which offers a much better understanding of a small fish, dubbed Metaspriggina, that lived during the Cambrian Period (about 505 million years ago).
In this new collection of 44 fossils, the researchers could see a pair of extremely well-preserved arches near the front of the fish’s body–a feature that eventually gave rise to jaws in vertebrates. This discovery marked the first time this feature has been seen so early in the fossil record. The scientists could also surmise from preserved muscle tissue that Metaspriggina was an active swimmer and could see that it had a pair of large eyes and could sense its environment with nasal structures.
Our video of the week, a short clip from the Royal Ontario Museum, is an artist’s rendition of a Metaspriggina swimming silently in the Cambrian ocean millions of years ago.
Learn more about how Metaspriggina fits into our overall understanding of the evolution of life in this New York Times piece by Carl Zimmer
Read the abstract of the paper that appeared in Nature (a subscription is required to view the full text of the paper)
Written by Christine Hoekenga
Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.